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Visiting a synagogue advice

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by ilovepaydays, Jun 19, 2012.

  1. ilovepaydays

    ilovepaydays Well-Known Member

    I hope I don't embarrass myself or offend anyone with this thread.

    For awhile now, for various reasons, I have been doubting a lot of things about being a Christian. I just came from an Evangelical church and I think I am sorting through some issues (not just how I was treated, but also with how I REALLY am beginning to view things). I am taking some time to visit different kinds of places of worship before I make a decision on how I really feel.

    I also consider having faith and being part of a community to be too important in my life to walk away from.

    So, on my list I have a Reform synagogue that is in my area and I was wanting to visit for a Shabbat service. But I have never been in a synagogue before, so I have some questions:

    1) Can I even attend a Shabbat service if I'm not Jewish? The last thing I want to do is offend anyone there.
    2) What should I say as a visitor when people ask what bought me there? They may wonder more if I tell them I have lived in the area for awhile.
    3) What goes on? What if I get lost in the service?
    4) What is someone invites me to a certain event? Should I disclose myself and turn them down?
    5) Do any of you have any other advice about visiting?

    I apologize for sounding weird or stupid about my questions, but I feel right now that I can't talk with anything I know because they: 1) would attack me questioning things, or 2) don't consider faith important. I have always felt that FSU was a place to ask about all kinds of things and you have been always been friendly to me these past years.
  2. PRlady

    PRlady flipflack

    As an atheistic Jew raised Conservative, and a member of a Reform temple for many years, I'll start. Others will I'm sure offer opinions.

    First of all, our synagogues welcome everyone. (My best story is taking my tall, blond, Texan, Presbyterian minister friend to an ultra-Orthodox synagogue in Brooklyn many years ago. They welcomed him although he panicked when he realized I had to sit separately, only the Orthodox separate men from women.)

    Second, 2/3 of the Reform service is in English. The prayerbook, which opens from right to left, has the English translation of the Hebrew prayers so you can follow along. Basically it's a lot of singing; some prayers are said standing but the rabbi tells you when to stand up. Our services are long by Protestant standards but Reform on a Friday night will probably be about 1.5 hours. Having gone to Methodist and Congregationalist churches, where I felt comfortable, I don't think you'll feel too out of place.

    Third, particularly in the summers, there are not many people at most Friday night services. Saturdays can be busy if there is a Bar Mitzvah. No matter where you go, people will either smile at you vaguely or actively welcome you. No-one will ask you what you are doing there unless you volunteer the information, in the sense that you don't have to explain. You can if you like, though.

    There's a short Oneg Shabbat afterwards in what you would call the vestry, it's just a blessing over the wine and bread and some wine and cake to eat, you can stay as long as you like, it's informal.

    You are a long way from making any kind of commitment to Judaism so I won't comment on that. But we are an easy religion to "tour" -- we all LOVE to explain things, it's in the DNA. ;)
  3. agalisgv

    agalisgv Well-Known Member

    I could be misreading, but I'm guessing ilovepaydays is thinking about the part of the service where visitors in many evangelical churches are made to stand up and introduce themselves and say a bit about their background (sometimes explicitly asking whether they've accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior).

    I haven't seen that happen in synagogues, but maybe that varies (well, not that part about being born again :shuffle: ).
  4. milanessa

    milanessa engaged to dupa

    That doesn't happen.
  5. maatTheViking

    maatTheViking Danish Ice Dance! Go Laurence & Nikolaj!

    ??? :confused:

    I consider my self culturally protestant, but this sound so odd - why put people on the spot? can't you just check out a congregation for fit? Or be curious about a way of believing?
  6. PRlady

    PRlady flipflack

    It's the difference between our mainstream churches (and yours, are you Lutheran?) and our evangelical churches. Believe me, no-one in an Episcopalian church calls people out publicly, if they did the poor ladies would pass out in the pews. The evangelical churches have a different culture.

    And no, no-one would ever ask a stranger in a synagogue to stand up and declare his or her beliefs. Not in any denomination or on any occasion. This I'm sure of.
  7. agalisgv

    agalisgv Well-Known Member

    Well, evangelicalism/fundamentalism is a culture unto itself ;).

    It's not considered putting people on the spot, but rather welcoming them publicly. The idea is for guests/visitors not to get lost in the crowd, but rather to be recognized so that people can make a point to greet them, and if there are special needs, for those to be met (eg, having just moved into the area).

    For more conservative churches, the born again question is asked because there are restrictions on who can partake in Lord's Supper and donate to the church. It's also a mechanism to identify people who are in need of evangelism :shuffle:.
    The exception to that would be mainline churches that are predominantly African-American and/or Native. You see the public greetings there too.

    Anyhow, that's just what popped into my head as a point of divergence between synagogues and evangelical churches, so I thought that may be what ilovepaydays was thinking of.
  8. Vagabond

    Vagabond Well-Known Member

    1) Absolutely. You won't offend anyone. If you get the opportunity, though, you may want to introduce yourself to the host or whoever leads the service.

    2) Something truthful, such as that you've been curious what a Jewish service was like.

    3) Generally speaking, at a Friday evening service, the leader (usually a rabbi or a cantor, but not necessarily) and the congregation chant a series of psalms (or in a Reform congregation, sicng a few songs), then they sing L'kha Dodi (a song to welcome the Sabbath). After that, there is a series of blessings, a long, silent meditative prayer, a remembrance of people who have died recently or for whom the anniversary of the death falls during the coming week, some words of wisdom from the leader (often related to the week's Torah portion), announcements, and a concluding hymn. The service typically lasts an hour.

    At a Saturday morning hymn, there are introductory blessings and prayers, then the Torah is taken out of the ark, the rabbi or whoever is leading the service gives some commentary on the Torah portion, and then the Torah portion and the corresponding Haftarah portion are chanted. After some more blessings and prayer, the Torah is returned to the ark. Then, there is Musaf service with blessings and another long, silent prayer[/URL], a remembrance of the dead, announcements, and a concluding prayer. The entire service usually lasts 2-3 hours.

    Your Minyan May Very. ;)

    4) Thank them and accept or decline as you see fit. Feel free to mention that you're just visiting the congregation and wanted to go to a Jewish service.

    5) Almost all congregations have bilingual prayer books and Mahzorim and sometimes additional transliterations. Just check with the host when you arrive.

    From time to time, the leader will usually indicate which page everyone is on. If you get lost, just ask a neighbor.

    Stand when everyone else stands, even if you keep silent, and sit when everyone else sits.

    Usually, some of the Hebrew chants or hymns have tunes that are catchy enough that you can join in by singing "da-da-da" instead of following the lyrics.

    As you are coming from a Christian background, you will probably be struck by the extent to which the congregants themselves engage in the chanting and prayer.

    Enjoy yourself.
  9. maatTheViking

    maatTheViking Danish Ice Dance! Go Laurence & Nikolaj!

    I'm nothing, but the Danish state church is Lutheran, and I consider it part of my spiritual heritage, even if I am not baptized - I sang in our village church's childrens choire, for instance.

    Sorry for minor thread drift, I find different religions and their traditions very facinating!
  10. Nancy on SINY

    Nancy on SINY New Member

    1) If you know someone who attends a synagogue, ask if you can join that person at a service. I have taken people including a Chinese Buddist to services or special musical presentations.

    2) You might find it easier to start the high tech way. My synagogue streams its Shabbat service on Friday night at 6 PM. Go to www.swfs.org & click on streaming service. I believe that other synagogues also are streaming now. The Reform movement has put out parts of their prayerbook as an iPad app. I stream the service on my laptop & follow along using my iPad. I get just as much out of the service this way & don't have to deal with the crazy Friday night traffic.

    3) There are many "Jews by choice." Some come from a Christian background and felt they could not believe some of its teachings but did want to keep believing the ethical teachings that the two religions share such as the Ten Commandments or to treat others as you would want to be treated. It would be easiest to test the waters with the Reform movement & then see if you feel comfortable with another movement that is stricter on rituals & rules. I've met former Christians who now are ultra-Orthodox Jews.
  11. Reuven

    Reuven Official FSU Alte Kacher

    Yes, I’ll wager you’ll find yourself welcomed.
    Just be truthful, you’ve never been to a synagogue and you were curious. There will probably be one or two people who will take you under their wing and be your guide(s).
    See above.
    Sometimes on Friday evening and usually every Saturday (Shabbat) there will be food offered. Friday night it’s called an Oneg Shabbat and Sat. it’s called Kiddish. Usually sponsored by a synagogue member but open to everyone in attendance, so don’t feel you’re freeloading. It’s all part of the service. I’m not sure what you mean by “event” but if you go when there is a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, you’re in for a treat. It’s a very happy event.
    Relax. My background is in the Conservative movement, which leans more to the traditional, but the Reform Movement has the good music. Not a joke, it’s true. Also they have figured out how to make a meaningful service last only about two hours as opposed to the three or three and a half in the Conservative. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

    A question unasked never gets answered.
  12. snoopy

    snoopy Team St. Petersburg

    This is a bit of an aside but at one point I considered myself noahide - which is kind of a made up concept but I have met others who got to the same place as me theologically and even used the same term to describe themselves. Anyway, based on that, I thought reform Judaism would be the place for me. I specifically sought out a reform congregation with a female rabbi, and scheduled time with her. After a pleasant and thoughtful conversation, she said to me, "just go join the Unitarians".

    D'oh. Smacks head.

    I was rather chagrined. Not so much because she didn't give a green light to Judaism but that she was sending me to the unitarians! Despite my flavor of spiritual views, I know that I have a fundamentalist mindset. I cannot be hanging with the mushy headed unitarians.

    So I hang with atheists instead. I don't share their beliefs but I understand how they think.

    But perhaps I should have pushed the issue more with the rabbi. Isn't there some tradition of having to ask three times to convert to Judaism?
  13. Lanie

    Lanie Well-Known Member

    I've had to do this. So awkward. When I joined a church I had to get rebaptized because my Anglican baptism wasn't valid. :rolleyes: One reason among many my husband and I left. But yeah, I'm not surprised someone would ask that. When my mother in law met my mother for the first time, it was the first thing my mom got asked. My mom was like this: :confused:

    Definitely go visit and enjoy! I thought I was a Jew until I was about six because my godmother was Jewish and we spent so much time with her family. Some of my fondest memories, actually!
  14. Lanna

    Lanna Well-Known Member

    Yes. If you're still around after getting talked out of it three times, you're a keeper. And then there's the hard part of the actual conversion.

    Alas, as an ffb who's hovering around conservadox these days, I can't say anything about Reform. Although I did go to a Reform minyan once. There was a guitar. :cool:
  15. Grannyfan

    Grannyfan Active Member

    I've lived in the Bible Belt and been a member of a Southern Baptist church all my life and have never heard of this practice in the Baptist church or any other evangelical denomination.
  16. paskatefan

    paskatefan Well-Known Member

    Lots of good advice here, so I don't have much to add. I'm a product of the Conservative movement, and belong to what I consider a very welcoming/inclusive synagogue. Our Friday evening Shabbat service is fairly short, and once a month we have "Shabbat with Strings Attached," during which the cantor plays guitar to accompany the prayers, followed by a thematic Oneg Shabbat. Our Shabbat morning services run about 2 & 1/2 hours (a little shorter during the summer). Each synagogue is different, of course, but I feel the Reform movement is a good place to start, and I think you'll feel pretty comfortable there. .
  17. Reuven

    Reuven Official FSU Alte Kacher

    Probably should explain about the music thing-Orthodox and most Conservative don't allow musical instruments on Shabbat. It is connected to not doing any work on Shabbat which is from about 15 minutes before sunset on Friday to about a half hour after sunset on Saturday. The Reform movement does use instruments. They came up with the idea of a song leader, that's how Debbie Friedman (z"l) got her start. So now there are all kinds of contemporary Jewish music performers and song writers, and they are mostly Reform Jews.
  18. paskatefan

    paskatefan Well-Known Member

    I should add here that my childhood synagogue merged with our current synagogue (demographic changes in the neighborhood). My childhood synagogue did not allow musical instruments to be played on Shabbat & major holidays, but our current synagogue does allow it. There is a professional choir that accompanies some Shabbat services with an organ) and the major festivals (Passover, Sukkot, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur), but it is done in a very understated way. I have no problem with musical accompaniment, but I imagine some of the older, more "traditional" congregants needed time to get used to it. I learned a lot of music of the Reform movement thanks to taking some Jewish music courses At Gratz College in the Philly area, and through my niece and nephew, whose parents belong to a Reform congregation. Now I have quite a few CDs from "NIFTY (The Reform Movements Youth Group for teenagers), not to mention Debbie Friedman. Love the music! Reuven, are you familiar with Safam (not officially affiliated with the Conservative movement, but their individual members are, I believe)?
  19. Reuven

    Reuven Official FSU Alte Kacher

    Very familiar with Safam. I think most New England Jews are as they are a Boston group.
  20. paskatefan

    paskatefan Well-Known Member

    Love their music, and have lost count how many times we've seen them in concert.

    This is OT, but are you planning on attending US Nationals when it comes to Boston in 2014?
  21. Reuven

    Reuven Official FSU Alte Kacher

    Hope to, we'll see.
    OK, folks, back to our regularly scheduled thread.
  22. ilovepaydays

    ilovepaydays Well-Known Member

    You guys have given good insight so far, thanks! :)

    I was referring to the "meet & greet" or "passing the peace" part that is in a lot of Evangelical/Protestant worship services. I always felt that they could make people feel welcome or make me feel "on the spot". Sometimes those discusses get into "When I met the Lord, What the Lord did for me this week, etc." I was also referring to if someone were to ask me about myself before/after service.
  23. barbk

    barbk Well-Known Member

    Thanks for asking such great questions, Ilovepaydays, and thank you to all those who provided answers. I learned a lot.
  24. heckles

    heckles Well-Known Member

    What I don't respect is the bait-and-switch that some evangelical churches do: everyone's told to close their eyes, and people who want to get "saved" are told to raise their hands, assured that they have privacy to do so since everyone's eyes are closed. Then, after everyone's eyes are opened, those who raised their hands are aggressively hustled to the front by ushers and put on display. It seems that a lot of evangelical churches are big on having getting impressive numbers for their "altar calls", and this is a questionable method that some of them use to attain those numbers.
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2012
  25. AxelAnnie

    AxelAnnie Well-Known Member

    Well, I have seen it happen... But I am in California.. What can I say.

    As a convert to Judaism (my husband too) I will tell you that at we were terrified to go into a synagogue... And the first one we went to was Reform...and horrid for us. We were studying the religion and my dearly beloved was not bout to commit... But this service broke every "law" we were learning.... Like writing on Sabbath.. They passed out pencils so we could make a donation to something

    The dear, dear Rabbi we were studying with sent us to a Conservative Shul with the fabulous Rabbi and it was heaven... We were there for years.

    I was so surprised that people get up and move around during the service. I will obviously these people were not schooled by nuns and priests!
    And at the end they passed out candy.... I am thinking ooh! What fun... A sort of intermezzo course...... Oops... They were for the Bar Mitzvah.

    I have (except for that first one) never felt out of place at shul... People daven (pray) along quietly or silently... Read other passages.... Looking things up and go at their own pace... So you really can't run too far amok.

    Just stand when they stand, sit when they sit, and you will fit in like a pro. If they ask who is here for the first time.. Don't answer if you don't want to.

    I love Shul, and have a wonderful fit for me and my family within Judaism... Enjoy your journey
  26. AxelAnnie

    AxelAnnie Well-Known Member

    OMG! Safam! I didn't realize they were really a group that was still together, or that anyone knew besides me. My daughter went out with the son of one of them, and he gave me one of his dad's tapes.....as a lark.

    I LOVE them! Their songs always make me sooooooo happy.
  27. vesperholly

    vesperholly Well-Known Member

    I was raised Lutheran, and no one did that at my church! :eek: Maybe I'd have stopped reading The Babysitter's Club and paid attention if they had.

    Years ago, Glamour magazine ran an advice column in which questions were answered by a priest, a pastor and a rabbi. The rabbi always, always had the best advice. :lol:

    Please come back and tell us of your experiences. I've been to quite a few bat/bar mitzvahs. The temple in my city is stunning, with gorgeous stained glass. It was built by Max Abramovitz, the architect who designed Avery Fisher Hall (part of Lincoln Center).
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2012
  28. Vagabond

    Vagabond Well-Known Member

    What was the name of the column? "Advice from the Bar"? ;)
  29. cruisin

    cruisin Banned Member

    :lol: Having been raised Episcopalian, I can attest to that. Though, it is not unusual for the minister to notice a new person, on the way out. The minister always waits at the door to greet all of the parishioners leaving. They would welcome a new person and offer information, should they want to join the parish. But, it's not high pressure.

    I have been in several Synagogues. All for Bar/bat Mitzvahs, so I was with others who were not Jewish. But, I thought the services were beautiful and felt very welcome.

    Ilovepaydays, you should go. I am sure you will be made to feel welcome. And I don't think it would be necessary to hide the fact that you are searching for a religious home. I think you would be encouraged and respected for that. But, I don't think you will be interrogated, in any way.
  30. heckles

    heckles Well-Known Member

    I like the way a lot of the "mainline" Protestant churches have a point in the service in which everyone stands up to shake hands, say "Peace", or whatever.